Is England a nation or a country?

Origin of the English Nation

This article was published on October 25, 2012 as a Spotlight presented.

Origin of the English Nation

The Origin of the English Nation and the naming as such was due, among other things, to the early decision to refer to the Germanic conquerors of Britain as fishing. However, the designation fluctuated greatly between Angling, Saxony and Anglo-Saxon.


Why the naming of the Germanic invaders varied in such a way has been discussed several times by several historians, but its historical significance was only appreciated by a few; a satisfactory explanation has not yet been found.

One of the historians who dealt extensively with the origin of the term: "Englishman" was Hector Munro Chadwick (1870-1947) in his book published in 1907 "The Origin of the English Nation".

Chadwick's hypothesis

Chadwick assumed that the Saxons and Angles on the mainland were originally not closely related despite being in close proximity. But after the Saxons, perhaps driven by pressure from their backs, began to look for new residences westward across the sea from the 3rd century onwards, as one can deduce from a Danish tradition recorded by Saxo Grammaticus, those who remained were from a King Helgi, Halfdan's son, in whom Chadwick suspects a fishing king, at the beginning of the 5th century. subjugated and fused with the hinges into one people.

The hinges strengthened by the absorption of the Saxons, commonly referred to by the Celts as "Saxons", then became the conquerors of Britain. The subjugated Saxons had gradually gained the upper hand in the state, while the descendants of the Angles evaporated into a military aristocracy.

Thus Chadwick explained the phenomenon he presented, that the Angles and Saxons had a lower wergeld than the Jutes and other neighboring peoples. The distinction between Beda Venerabilis of the Angles and Saxons as special tribes is merely the result of a theory that he developed to explain the tribal names Wessex, Essex, Sussex on the one hand, and East Anglia and Central Anglia on the other. In practice he also treated the two tribes as identical, so if he was of the gens Saxonum sive Anglorum speaks or calls the first comers sometimes Saxons, sometimes Angles, while Juts are meant.

The names Essex, Sussex, Wessex, Ostanglia etc. would have displaced older tribal names such as Geuissae, Wuffingas and others. The people of Essex received the Saxon name from their Saxon dynasty; It may have been similar in Sussex, while Wessex, after Chadwick, was simply a sinker of Essex or Sussex. The "Saxon" kingdoms undoubtedly contained many originally Saxon elements, but no more than the "Anglic" ones.

Since the mixture of peoples had already taken place on the continent, there can no longer be any question of tribal differences in the population of the "Anglic" and "Saxon" empires in England. The Germanic conquerors of Britain did not fall into three, but only into two clearly separated nationalities: the Jutes and the "Anglo-Saxons", who were divided by their wergeld system; but the Jutes had given up name and nationality before the 8th century and were also considered an "Anglo-Saxon" tribe.

Green's hypothesis

In this hypothesis, which echoes in its basic idea of ​​Green's assumption of a continental league of nations between Angling, Saxony and Jutes under Anglic leadership, Chadwick drew to light some important points that had previously been neglected or misunderstood.

New attempted explanation

The fact that the Angles and Saxons were not already fused into one nation on the mainland, but colonized Britain as separate tribes, is corroborated by various facts.

1.) The fact that the Celts of Britain all call the Germanic conquerors 'Saxons' not only shows that the Saxons were the first to confront them as an impressive naval power; But also during the final conquest of the country a considerable part of the invaders must have called themselves "Saxons": the Germanic people who flooded and settled most of the island in the 5th and 6th centuries would be the British under the common name Opposed to "fishing", they would surely have engraved this name on the memory of the vanquished. The Romans of Gaul also called the Germanic conquerors of their country "Franks", and not "Suebi" or "Goths".

2.) Furthermore, the tribal names Essex, Sussex, Wessex, Ostanglia etc. are probably of more recent date in their geographical breakdown, but in their separation from Angles and Saxons they prove that the tribal differences between these two peoples are not just a theoretical abstraction from Bede Venerabilis were that the Saxons did not first get their name from a Saxon ruling dynasty in Essex - old Germanic names of peoples according to dynasties used to show the suffix "-ing": Wuffingas, Merewioingas, Scyldingas etc. - but that an old tribal contrast between the actually existed in both main races. This is also indicated by the place name Englafeld near Reading in old Wessex, which apparently denotes an Anglic settlement in Saxon territory.

3.) The later dialect differences between "Saxon" and "Anglish" probably took place on British soil for the most part. Chadwick emphasizes that the relationships between the Old English dialects are determined by geographical proximity and have been caused by political divisions in insular times regardless of original tribal differences. But the old tribal borders were not completely overgrown by the recent linguistic development.

Jordan's research has shown that the dialects, which we set as Anglish on the basis of linguistic and literary criteria, have striking similarities in their vocabulary, in which the Saxon dialects do not participate, but which find parallels in the Nordic languages, while vice versa the Southern English Dialects that we call Saxon are closer to Frisian and Old Saxon. That would be inexplicable if the two peoples were mixed in continental times, but rather speaks in favor of separate emigration and settlement.

4.) That the tribal differences between Angling and Saxony were still clearly felt in later times is confirmed by some testimonies. In the old English translation of Beda's church history, which was written on Anglic soil during the time of Alfred the Great, the first words are the preface Historiam gentis Anglorum ecclesiasticam in þaet Spelt ... be Angelþeode and Seaxum changed and Angli vel Saxones by Ongle and Seaxan reproduced. There was no need to make these changes at either point.

There are also a number of other cases where the Angles and Saxons are treated as two peoples: Asser gives that all Angelcynn the Saxon Chronicle Angli and Saxones again; in the song for the battle of Brunanburh in 937 it says with reference to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain: siþþan eastan hider Engle and Seaxe up becomanIn the song about the death of Edward the Confessor in the Saxon Chronicle of 1065, the king says: weold wel geþungen Walum and Scottum and Bryttum eac byre Aeðelredes, Englum and Sexum oret maegcum. There is a passage in Einhard's annals of evidence from the mainland [1] mentioned: cum from Anglis a c Saxonibus Brittannia insula fuisset invasa.

Difference of the Germanic tribes

On the other hand, however, the Germanic tribes initially differed so little from one another in type, language and culture that they appeared to foreign countries as one people and were named by the Celts, and that they felt themselves to be one people towards foreign countries and felt the need for a common name. Even after the dialectical differences became more pronounced, the feeling of belonging remained; The attempts at political unification and later the opposition to the Danes contributed to the constant revitalization of the same.

Differentiation between island and old Saxons on the mainland

The initial vacillation of the Latin-writing chroniclers between the names of the two main tribes shows that they were fairly balanced in their meaning. If, among the mainland peoples and the island Germans, it was not the Saxons (as was the case with the Celts) that emerged victorious, but the Angles, the reason for this seems to have been twofold:

On the one hand the need to distinguish the island Saxons from the old Saxons of the mainland, which were a well-known, powerful tribe, and on the other hand the fact that the anglers no longer played a role on the mainland after their settlement in Britain, while they were not only on the island Expansion of the main tribe, but in the 7th and 8th centuries also politically decidedly predominant and first developed a national literature.

In the case of the Saxons, the feeling of cultural superiority over their continental cousins, who first received the blessings of Christianity and literary education from them, may have contributed to making them inclined to accept the name of their rival tribe as a designation for the entire people. When the political and literary hegemony passed to West Saxony in the 9th century, the question of the name had already been decided:

In the time of Alfred the Great (848-899) the terms are English, Angelcynn in the broader sense already naturalized in the Saxon literary language. It may be that they only prevailed in the Saxon vernacular at the time of the national struggle against the Danes, which primarily touched the hinges and a contradiction of Engla lagu and Dena lagu created.

Merger of the two main tribes

The amalgamation of the two main tribes into one nation, however, is the result of fighting on British soil, not an heirloom from continental times. Angles, Saxons, and Jutes immigrated separately into Britain and occupied separate areas; and since the settlement was not carried out by the tribes as a whole, but in individual flocks and associations, the local grouping of immigrants to one another in Britain was certainly not exactly the same as in their homeland.

As a result, however, a new epoch was given in linguistic and political development, which began with geographical proximity on British soil. There had to be linguistic innovations, the distribution curves of which, given the lack of natural obstacles that would distinguish people from one another, often overgrown the old tribe's borders. New geographical dialect groups took the place of the tribal dialects.

In the old English grammar, the traditional differences between 'Saxon' and Anglish 'are wrongly emphasized, which in reality were soon pushed into the background by the new insular formations. It was similar in the political field. The tribal difference remained clearly pronounced for a long time, but within the old main tribes numerous smaller individual states emerged, which feuded with one another.

Here, too, the influence of the geographical position asserted itself; Within the Anglic tribe, a contrast arose early on between the settlers north and south of the Humber, Northumbrians and Merciers, which latter were more closely linked to the Saxons through some interest groups. This multiplicity of small states blurred the original tribal differences, which was conducive to national unity.

Volkish union

The national union of all the states of Britain was sought early on and found expression in the idea of ​​the hegemony of Bretwalda. The multiple alternation of this dignity between Northumbriern, Mercier, capsize and West Saxons had to strengthen and enliven the feeling of ethnic togetherness.

The transition of hegemony to West Saxony and the final unification of the nation by King Egbert of Wessex in 829 then found its bloody seal under Alfred the Great on the battlefields of the Danish Wars, where Saxons and Angles fought shoulder to shoulder against the Nordic invaders.

The unification of the Anglo-Saxon tribes was therefore purely political, conditioned by the dominance of a state; it did not involve a large-scale mix. On the other hand, however, it remains questionable whether the Angler and the Saxons differ from each other in their peculiarities as a people from each other essentially more than in their language and culture.

Real mixtures of peoples, on the other hand, took place in Anglo-Saxon times in the west with the Celts and in the east with Scandinavians. If we later notice differences in temperament and talent among the population of different areas of England, these are, if they cannot be explained in social and economic conditions, perhaps more due to the Celtic and Scandinavian influences than to ancient tribal differences between Angles and Saxons.

Related topics


  • Anglia - Journal of English Philology. Volume 1923, Issue 47. Eugene Einenkel.
  • "The Use of the Word English". E. A. Freeman.
  • Anglo-Saxon or English. Greifswald dissertation. 1877. By E. Knothe.
  • The continental home d. Anglo-Saxons and Roman culture; Pp. 566-89; 1905. From Bremer in: "Ethnography of the Germanic tribes".
  • The Origin of the English Nation (1907). H. Munro Chadwick.
  • General history of the Germanic peoples. 1909. Ludwig Schmidt.
  • Real Lexicon of Germanic Archeology, Volume 1. By Johannes Hoops, 1918-1919. P. 91ff.

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ a. 786, Scriptores Department of the Monumenta Germaniae historica. I, 169